Bifacial Solar Modules Now Exempt from Section 201 Tariff

On June 13, 2019, the Office of the United States Trade Representative ruled that bifacial solar modules are exempt from the Section 201 tariffs on solar cell and module imports. This exemption applies to articles imported on or after June 13, 2019, and creates an opportunity for cost savings over traditional monofacial solar modules. Developers and solar companies who have been importing, or are considering importing, solar modules should consider the potential for such savings in light of this exemption. Continue Reading

D.C. Circuit Says NEPA Requires FERC To Inquire Into Up and Downstream Effects of Pipeline Project

In a recent opinion, the D.C. Circuit suggested the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) must attempt to obtain information necessary to evaluate the environmental effects of a proposed interstate pipeline project due to the project’s effect on natural gas production and consumption. In Birckhead v. FERC, USCA Case No. 18-1218 (D.C. Cir. 2019), the court criticized FERC for failing to obtain and consider information about upstream production and downstream consumption in its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of a proposed project to add compression to an existing pipeline, even though the applicant was unlikely to have information regarding the origin and destination of the gas to be transported. The court indicated that FERC has an obligation to at least request information about upstream and downstream activities from pipeline applicants, and suggested that, under the decision in Sierra Club v. FERC, 867 F.3d 1357 (D.C. Cir. 2017), FERC may be required to consider the environmental effects of those activities as indirect effects of FERC’s pipeline approval. Continue Reading

No Students? No Problem, Developer Still Pays

In Tanimura & Antle Fresh Foods, Inc. v. Salinas Union High School District, the Sixth District Court of Appeal considered whether the Salinas Union High School District (“District”) acted reasonably in imposing a school impact fee on a new 100-unit residential development intended to only house adult seasonal farmworkers without dependents (the “Project”) employed by Tanimura & Antle Fresh Foods (“T&A”). After reviewing the relevant statutory schemes, the Legislature’s intent, and the District’s evidence for imposing the fee, the court found that the District properly determined a reasonable relationship existed between the fee and the new residential construction, even though the development would not generate any new students. Therefore, the District did not act arbitrarily by imposing the fee on the Project. In holding so, the court reversed the trial court judgment.

This decision reinforces the concept that, while school districts must demonstrate a nexus – or reasonable relationship – between development fees and the type of development, such as residential units, they generally are not required to evaluate the ultimate user of a particular development project before imposing district-wide fees on a developer. This ruling will likely have direct repercussions to a developer’s proforma in today’s marketplace, were both developers and local governments are implementing creative strategies for addressing certain housing shortages – such as the provision of specific workforce housing. Continue Reading

Opportunity Zones Update: NEW PROPOSED TREASURY REGULATIONS (PART II)

Qualified Opportunity Zone Businesses

BACKGROUND

In December 2017, as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”), Congress established a new tax incentive program to promote investment in certain low-income communities designated by the IRS as qualified opportunity zones. The tax incentives obtained by investing in a qualified opportunity fund (“QOF”) allow taxpayers to (i) defer paying taxes on capital gain from the sale or exchange of appreciated assets; (ii) receive a permanent exclusion from taxation of up to 15 percent of the originally deferred gain; and (iii) for taxpayers that hold their investment in the QOF for at least 10 years, a permanent exclusion from taxation for any appreciation in excess of the deferred gain.

On April 17, the Treasury Department released its second round of guidance on Opportunity Zone investments in the form of proposed regulations (the “New Proposed Regulations”). These newly proposed regulations supplement and in some cases revise the proposed regulations issued in October of 2018 (the “October Proposed Regulations”). [1]

The New Proposed Regulations provide further clarity, but leave many questions unanswered. This is Part II of our series of blog posts on the New Proposed Regulations. This post addresses key issues relating to the requirements for qualified opportunity zone businesses and qualified opportunity zone business property. For Part I of our explanation, which addresses qualified investments in qualified opportunity funds, please click on the link here. Continue Reading

Labor Development Impacting Developers, Contractors, and Landowners

It is unlawful for unions to secondarily picket construction sites or to coercively enmesh neutral parties in the disputes that a union may have with another employer.  This area of the law is governed by the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), the federal law that regulates union-management relations and the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”), the federal administrative agency that is tasked with enforcing the NLRA.  But NLRB decisions issued during the Obama administration have allowed a union to secondarily demonstrate at job sites and to publicize their beefs over the use of non-union contractors there, provided the union does not actually “picket” the site.  In those decisions, the NLRB narrowed its definition of unlawful “picketing,” thereby, limiting the scope of unlawful activity prohibited by law. Included in such permissible nonpicketing secondary activity is the use of stationary banners or signs and the use of inflatable effigies, typically blow-up rats or cats, designed to capture the public’s  attention at an offending employer’s job site or facilities. Continue Reading

IRS Change in Application Requirements for Obtaining Employer Identification Number Could Affect Many International Investors In U.S. Real Estate

Effective May 13, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) changed the requirements for obtaining an employer identification number (EIN). The IRS now requires that an individual with a social security number (SSN) or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) be named as the “responsible party” on IRS Form SS-4 (Application for Employer Identification Number), except in the case of federal, state, local, and tribal governmental entities (See IR-2019-58). Previously, an entity that owned the requesting entity could be named as “responsible party” and provide its EIN on the form. This change is likely to affect international investors in the real estate industry who form special purpose entities to acquire real property. Continue Reading

EIR for Downtown San Francisco Mixed-Use Project Upheld Under Supreme Court’s Newly Articulated Standard of Review

The belatedly published South of Market Community Action Network v. City and County of San Francisco (2019) ___ Cal.App.5th ___ (“South of Market”), is the first published decision in which the court applies the principles articulated by the California Supreme Court in the recent Sierra Club v. County of Fresno decision (commonly referred to as “Friant Ranch”) regarding the standard of review for the adequacy of an EIR (discussed in detail here).

The challenged EIR in South of Market set forth two proposed schemes for a mixed‑use development (the “5M Project”) on a 4-acre site in downtown San Francisco: an “Office Scheme” and a “Residential Scheme.” Under both schemes, the overall gross square footage was substantially the same, with varying mixes of office and residential uses. Additionally, each scheme would result in new active ground floor space, office use, residential dwellings, and open space. Both schemes would also preserve and rehabilitate the Chronicle and Dempster Printing Buildings, demolish other buildings on site and construct new buildings ranging from 195 to 470 feet in height.

Petitioners alleged a litany of CEQA violations in their petition, including claims regarding traffic and circulation, open space, inconsistencies with area plans and policies, and the adequacy of the statement of overriding considerations. Applying existing law and specifically relying on Friant Ranch, the South of Market court looked to whether the EIR at issue contained the details necessary for informed decision-making and public participation. The court emphasized that when assessing the legal sufficiency of an EIR, perfection is not required as long as a good faith effort at full disclosure has been made. Contrary to the petitioners’ allegations, the court held this standard was met here, demonstrating that, in this case at least, Friant Ranch does not appear to have led to a significantly different approach to resolving the various CEQA challenges alleged in the petition for writ of mandate.

To avoid redundancy and for the sake of brevity, the remainder of this post will address in detail only the more novel and/or nuanced holdings of the court. Continue Reading

FERC Holds the Line on One-Year Limit for State Review of Clean Water Act Certifications for Interstate Natural Gas Pipelines

On April 2, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) determined that the one-year statutory limit on state review of interstate natural gas pipeline company applications for water quality certification was a bright-line deadline that could not be extended by private agreement.[1] FERC found that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (“NYDEC”) failure to act within one year of receipt of a water quality certification application submitted by National Fuel Gas Supply Corporation and Empire Pipeline, Inc. (together, “National Fuel”) constituted waiver of the State’s authority under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act[2] to make a final determination on the application. Section 401 limits such review to one year or less from the date of receipt of the application. The Commission rejected contentions by the NYDEC and Sierra Club that the NYDEC could extend the date by which it could act on a water quality certification application. The Commission’s Order will arguably restrict states’ ability to review water quality certification applications associated with interstate natural gas pipeline projects, may actually lead to uncertainty for entities proposing to construct such pipeline facilities, and will test the Commission’s interpretations of Section 401 and related case law. Continue Reading

Opportunity Zones Update: NEW PROPOSED TREASURY REGULATIONS (PART I)

Background

In December 2017, as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”), Congress established a new tax incentive program to promote investment in certain low-income communities designated by the IRS as qualified opportunity zones. Section 1400Z-2 of the Internal Revenue Code provides three compelling tax incentives to encourage investment in qualified opportunity funds (“QOFs”).

Taxpayers can defer paying taxes on capital gain from the sale or exchange of appreciated assets by investing such gain in a QOF within 180 days following such sale or exchange. Such gain may be deferred until the earlier of (i) when the investment is sold or exchanged or (ii) December 31, 2026.

Investors receive a step-up in the basis equal to 10% of the original deferred gain if the investment in the QOF is held for at least five years, with an additional 5% basis step-up if the investment is held for seven years. These basis step-ups can result in permanent exclusion from taxation of up to 15% of the originally deferred gain.

If the investor holds the investment in the QOF for at least 10 years, an elective basis adjustment made upon sale of the interest in the QOF provides a permanent exclusion from taxation for any appreciation in excess of the deferred gain.

On April 17, 2019, the Treasury Department released its second round of guidance on opportunity zone investment in the form of proposed regulations (the “New Proposed Regulations”). These newly proposed regulations supplement and in some cases revise the proposed regulations issued in October 2018 (The “October Proposed Regulations”). Continue Reading

FERC Rejects MISO’s Proposed Restrictions on Joining the Development Queue

Securing interconnection and transmission rights and completing related upgrades is often the longest lead-time item in an electric generator’s development timeline. At the same time, many potential new power plants are being developed and vying for access to the electric transmission grid. The policy of most grid operators is to address interconnection requests on a “first come first served” basis. As a result, developers/interconnection customers are incentivized to submit their interconnection requests as early in the development process as possible in order to save their projects’ place in line. Over the last two years, Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (“MISO”) experienced record-high interconnection requests, and yet nearly 80% of these submissions ultimately were withdrawn prior to commercial operation of the project. MISO attributed this trend to developers submitting multiple requests for the same proposed project to test (and quickly withdraw) multiple interconnection concepts, many of which the developers knew they were not going to support through the entire queue process.

In an effort to reduce the number of requests in its interconnection queue that will ultimately be withdrawn, MISO requested that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) approve revisions to MISO’s interconnection request procedures related to milestone payments and site control requirements, which revisions would place substantially higher hurdles to a potential new power plant joining MISO’s generator interconnection queue. In Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc., 166 F.E.R.C. ¶ 61,187 (2019), FERC rejected MISO’s request, but FERC’s ruling leaves open the possibility that it might approve a similar set of heightened requirements, so long as MISO makes modifications to its proposal to account for interconnection customers that might be disproportionately disadvantaged. Continue Reading

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